Lightning Crashes

Day 44 – Boots Off Hostel to Iron Mountain Shelter – 16.2 miles

The night at Boots Off was filled with rain. Thankfully I was in a tiny cabin where my belongings and myself were safe and dry. The trail, however, was a muddy mess and my hiking shoes took the brunt of the weather. 

The view from the camp spot

The morning’s hike followed Watauga Lake and through the morning mist I could see the shoreline. There was a beautiful campsite where I took the time to attend to a blister that was forming on the back of my right heel. I think it’s from my camp shoes which are canvas. I wore them in the shower and they never dried out so when I proceeded to walk around in them, they rubbed the skin raw. Duly noted. I plan to fix that in Damascus. 

There was a bit of elevation gain today. Nothing too dramatic. I stopped midway at the Vanderventer Shelter for a pack break and snack. There were several other hikers coming and going. The weather was nice. So far, it’s been a good reboot.  

I got to Iron Mountain Shelter early. 3:30ish, I think? I was the first one there so I had my pick of camping spots. I chose one that was nestled in leaves, just in case it rained overnight. Too bad I didn’t pay close attention to how slanted the ground was. I have to get better at this sooner than later! After setting up camp, I found a great tree limb for my bear hang. It’s funny how when you scout around for a hang, you start noticing all the lines hikers had to cut because their ropes got stuck. I always consider it successful when my bag is still there the next morning and I can retrieve it without issue. 

As more hikers filed in, the grounds around the shelter started to fill.  Some were familiar faces already. Others new. There was talk around dinner among the younger set about hiking the Damascus marathon the next day. From this shelter to the town of Damascus, Virginia is 26 miles. It’s a challenge of some sort, apparently one of many. The only challenge I will participate in is getting up every morning and hiking on. 

After dinner I settled into my not so level sleeping bag for the night. Cell service was available and I could hear various conversations hikers were having. A pop up rain shower started to fall. Damn. A wet tent and more wet trail tomorrow.  

Day 45 – Iron Mountain Shelter to Abingdon Gap Shelter – 16 miles

I awoke fairly early and packed my things. Took the time out to make an oatmeal packet and camp mocha – a freeze dried Folgers with hot chocolate. Off I went. 

The terrain for the first half of the hike was absolutely dreamy. The view was “spooky moody forest” and my music choice was the album “Cold” by Lycia. Perfect. 

Since starting my hike again, I’m in the tail end of the bubble. There are more hikers around me and today as I left the shelter I felt like I was in a conga line. I passed the iconic AT barn. 

The barn

I stopped at the Double Spring Shelter for a snack break and water. My concern was trying to make it to the Abingdon Gap Shelter before the storms hit. Thunder was rumbling off in the distance. 

For the next odd miles I hiked as fast as my feet could go. If I went any faster, I’d be running. The thunder was becoming louder and more frequent. The race was on. Unfortunately the terrain was not as level as the morning’s hike and elevation slowed me down. Halfway through Mother Nature won. I dug my raincoat out and now was resigned to hiking the remainder of the miles in the rain. 

I reached the Abingdon Gap Shelter around 1, I think. It was a good day’s hike – 16 miles in like 7 hours. The place was full of hikers breaking. Most were going on to complete the Damascus marathon.  God bless them. Some were staying for the night. The rain sputtered off and on for a few hours. The sun came out at one point. I quickly used the opportunity to throw my bear line and gather water. The spring was located way, way down a hill.  One comment on FarOut said it was like walking to Mordor. Seriously,  it was quite the haul. I made sure I was set for the night’s dinner and tomorrow’s hike. By evening 5 of us opted to sleep in the shelter. Others scattered their tents around the perimeter.  The sun was setting. Maybe the rain passed by us? 

Silly rabbit. Of course the weather has it’s own thoughts. Sometime around 10:30pm, the thunder kicked up again and rain fell. Then the heavens opened up and Biblical amounts of water poured down. The metal sheeting of the roof was a constant barrage of sound, interrupted by the cracks of thunder. At one point I didn’t get passed “3” when counting the space between lightning and the thunder. The wind sprayed a mist onto us inside. I thought about the poor hikers out in their tents. 

Day 46 – Abingdon Gap Shelter to Damascus Va – 10.2 miles

I awoke at 6am and took a look at the radar.  It was nice to have cell service.  “Rain in 11 minutes”, said AccuWeather. Hot damn. I put on my wet camp shoes and gathered my ditty bag to do my morning business. I made a bee line over to my food hang and retrieved that. Went back to the shelter to get dressed. By now all inside were up and around. I informed them that it looked like a line of rain was imminent.  I dug out a protein bar, packed and hit the trail fully dressed for the coming deluge. 

The trail was mostly up for awhile. I was getting hot and sweaty in my raincoat.  There was no deluge.  Damn AccuWeather.  I stopped to take off my raincoat.  While it did spit a few times, I found it wasn’t worth being overheated. Soon I hit the Tennessee/Virginia state line. 

Three and a half more miles until Damascus. The mostly downhill trail was kind, if not a muddy mess from the previous night’s precipitation.  There was no hope for my shoes and socks. My feet were now perpetually wet and felt like I was walking on shredded flesh. It’s going to feel so good to get a shower and have dry feet. 

My very wet shoes

Lady Di’s B&B is located on the far side of town. As I walked through the main drag I noted where the outfitter was, the diner, the post office – important businesses a hiker needs to know.  I arrived pretty early and got a tour of the place.  A hot shower is always a good feeling. 

The rest of the day was spent making a plan for the next segment of the trek, talking with my partner, video chatting with my sisters and going out to eat with fellow hikers. 

Day 47 – Zero day in Damascus VA 

Lady Di made a wonderful breakfast – frittata, home fries, sausage and cinnamon rolls. There was also fresh fruit and coffee. I won’t need anything until dinner. The rest of the morning was spent walking a mile to the grocery store. It was a nice trip past a very overflowing river. I hit the outfitter for those new camp shoes and then the post office to send my old ones home. 

My fancy new camp shoes

As I sit here on the upstairs deck at Lady Di’s, the weather is shifting from nice and sunny to full clouds. The view above the mountain in front of me looks ominous.  The forecast is calling for afternoon rain. Good thing I have my new camp shoes. They are rubber and can easily shed water. 

“Thunder only happens when it’s raining” – ‘Dreams’ – Fleetwood Mac





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Comments 6

  • Mary Lou : May 11th

    I thought at first the reference to “lightning crashes’ was gonna be from the band Live…but Fleetwood Mac will do as well…

    • Andrea Stilwell : May 15th

      It was from Live!

  • Christine Baccarella : May 12th

    Wonderful writings, Sister! I literally feel like I’m on the Trail with you! Keep on, Keepin’ on! ❤️

    • Andrea Stilwell : May 15th

      Thanks, Chrissy. It’s been quite a journey so far.

  • Mary Lyons : May 13th

    I’m following your journey from Arkansas. My mother has been in hospice in her home and I’m her sole caregiver so reading the AT blogs has been a lifeline to sanity and reminds me the outdoors are still out there. I told my family how you left trail and bravely returned and we are cheering you on. So happy to see you’re still out there !

    • Andrea Stilwell : May 15th

      Thank you for following me. I’m sorry to read about your Mom but I’m glad my blogs bring you some joy.


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